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Fishing Groups Challenge WA Water Quality Standard

June 3, 2010

SEATTLE, Wash. - Commercial and sport fishing groups have filed a lawsuit to prompt the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) to revise one of its water quality standards. It's a move they say would improve salmon survival. The groups want more water spilled over the dams, to boost the migrating fish over them safely. DOE has resisted, because adding spill also would increase gases dissolved in the water, which could create health problems for the fish.

Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice, the group that filed the suit, says the groups are asking Washington to adopt the same standard as Oregon. And, it's not the first time they've requested this change.

"In response to one of our requests, they actually convened a whole team to study this very question. In response, the state of Oregon went ahead and changed their standard. But, the state of Washington refused to do so and has since refused several additional requests."

Goodin says Washington's current standard for total dissolved gases artificially limits the amount of water spilled over the dams, and research shows more fish survive with higher spill rates.

"It's clear that it's really going to benefit endangered salmon; we also think it's very clear that it's not going to harm any other aquatic life in the Snake and Columbia rivers. We just don't think that there's any reason at all not to change it."

She says by having different water quality standards, the two states are also limiting what the federal government can do to improve river conditions for salmon. But spilling more water also compromises the dams' power output, so any decision is bound to be controversial.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA